Winter Work

Walking in the landscape most every day. Watching for the small changes that signal the next season. A few Aconites have pushed through a debris of leaves and snowdrops show a slit of white at the spear head of the stem. 

Sketching outside is where I feel most connected. To the landscape, nature, to the elements of weather and most importantly to the drawing. I went out on Sunday to Breamar ( and beyond) with painting buddy Sarah. It was cool – but we found a couple of spots to sit out and draw the hills and river valley.

We always had the intention to visit the Fife Arms and it was a wonderful place to warm up, restoring body and soul. It is tartan, gothic Scottish, ancient and modern. Brimming with stuffed birds and antlers. And Picasso, Freud and Louise holding court.

The food was fab and worth every penny. A destination to lift the spirits.

West Dean – monoprint workshop.

The dates for the workshop 10th – 13th February. Just under a month away so I am preparing in spite of the possibility that it will not run.

I have perfected the recipe for jelly plates so a couple of people can work on those at any time. The premis of the workshop being ‘press free’, though of course there will be presses available. I learnt my mono print techniques before I owned a press and want to show how much can be achieved without using a print workshop or purchasing expensive equipment.

I came across this image which has such good counterchange and dark to light relationship. It would be a good subject for a basic wipe back monochrome monoprint.

Any means of transferring marks from one surface to another is monoprint – the different surfaces dictate the paints or inks that can be used and the quality of the detail that can be achieved. Printing using hand pressure or wooden spoon. A car or a load of people. The boundaries are only imposed by our imagination and our own ambition.

Rest and Restoration

Low sun, short days, a contemplative mood, resting or waiting for something. In a creative tunnel with no light shining. Patient. Making Sketches and working without inspiration. It is a fallow time, it happens after a rich creative seam is mined and comes to an end. It feels like depression but is really a nessesary winter with the belief of spring to follow.

I have a number of ways to kick start, but being too needy can be inhibiting.

Watercolour sketched out.

The same theme starting by way of monoprint.

It’s on its, side but that doesn’t matter. It may or may not start a creative coversation.

West Dean – winter under wrap.

West Dean is having the roof fixed. The flint walls peek out from benieth massive scaffolding structure and layers of tarpaulins.

Cristo would have liked to have a go at this one…

Once inside the building there is very little difference – a few areas blocked off. ( health and safety) but it is business as usual. A slight inconvenience in that the back door was out of action, so we had to walk right round the building to get to the orangery, (healthy activity) . And there is no access to the internal courtyard for fresh air with a coffee at break time.

No one on my beginner watercolour course complained and they were, men and women, a really charming group of people.

We worked through the basic techniques of watercolour. First evening, with a gentle introduction to glazes.

And colour tones.

I did a demo of Stretching paper and everyone then did their own. It went well with just a couple of cockled capers. Paper has such strength – bending boards and ripping the tape willy nilly as it drys.

A patchwork of techniques.
And another.

The practice of flat washes, graduated washes, lifting off, wet in wet, wax resist and dry brush, all on one page. With layering, lifting off and some salt intervention.

Colour theory, more mixing of colours and painting.

The warm colour wheel and complimentary colours to mix neutrals.
And then… Outside…

To cap it all we had half an hour outside sketching in the winter sunshine. A thoroughly productive and enjoyable time. Only one painter was lost in the rough sea of watercolour – this time.

When to call it finished.

I have often heard people tell of how they have overworked a painting. Ruined a piece by not knowing when to stop. It is something I have considered and feel it is a false premis. Certainly from my experience.


When I am engaged with a painting, the process feels like a conversation – a dialogue that continues until there is nothing more to say. It is resolved. And if it carries on and on, it is usually because there is a problem with composition, proportions or somefhing other unsolvable. It is not a painting that is ruined or ends through overworking, it actually never was any good. Though in my memory it may have seemed better. It could not have been right.

This painting needed serious attention and additions. And the dialogue still continues. I was completely distracted from my class by it – which is a mixture of pleasure and annoyance. It is the best of feelings to be locked into a piece of work – so utterly absorbing.

Finished… Maybe.

A painting (or is it a rabbit) out of the bag.

During this weekend workshop at Aboyne i introduced a lot of water colour techniques – most participants should have come across them before in their years of watercolour painting. By combining and layering these techniques we can achieve richer colours and bold images. But that is where the confusion starts. Some people can work out the possibilities and realise an order to water-soluble versus permanent – but it catches other people out.

I take it for granted that if I draw with wax or oil pastel that that is irreversible – no wriggle room, or changing my mind. Like a tattoo, it is going to be painful and it will cost dear to remove it and it will probably still leave scars. I need to be at least a little bit cautious when using these unforgiving technuques.

And what is the benifit? A mark or line that cannot be removed? Exactly that. That I can paint loose and free knowing it will not bleed or shift.

Balancing control and chaos, wet and dry, permanent and impermanent.

I painted this during the last couple of hours of the workshop to try and convey some of the benifits and reasons for combining media. It is a loud and unbalanced piece. But it was my rabbit out of a hat.

And it is now being worked on – To infinity joy or beyond, to destruction…

Workshop – water and oil – permanent and soluble.

Layers of colour create some unique and intriguing mixes – different from the range of colours and effects made by mixing the pigments or the paint.

Acrylic under watercolour.

Acrylic under layers of ink washes.

Upper Deesside art group. Enthusiastic and talented. Working through the mist of uncertain ground onto a firmer more confident footing.
So watercolour just got more interesting.

We will see what happens tomorrow.